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‘I’m Not Going to Allow You to Do It’: Cleveland Activist On Neighborhood Patrol Who Cited Open-Carry Laws While Refusing to Put Away His Gun Files Suit Against Police Who Wrongly Arrested Him

A Cleveland man apprehended while allegedly trying to protect his neighborhood has filed a lawsuit against the city and the officers involved in what he claims is a wrongful arrest.

Antoine Tolbert alleges that Cleveland Police officers violated his rights when they arrested him in May for walking on the street with a shotgun and handgun in a state where open carry is legal, according to a federal lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star. 

Tolbert alleges in the lawsuit filed on Aug. 22 that a supervising officer knew he wasn’t breaking any laws but still ordered his arrest. He spent 36 hours in jail before he was released without formal charges. A grand jury later declined to indict him.

Tolbert is the president of a community-based nonprofit called New Era Cleveland, which reportedly provides safety resources and education to the community. The organization often conducts safety patrols to curb gun violence. Tolbert also hosts sessions with police recruits to bridge the gap between police and the community.

A 14-year-old girl had been shot hours before Tolbert’s arrest while lying in her bed. He urged the officers several times to investigate the murder and criticized them for not being around to prevent it. The lawsuit says police were dispatched to the area after someone called reporting a man walking down the street with a gun.

Body-worn camera footage of the incident shows Sgt. Lance Henderson demanded that Tolbert put his gun away. Although he admits it is an open carry state, Henderson tells Tolbert that the weapon must be “tucked away.”

The video shows a heated argument between Henderson and Tolbert after the lawman gets out of his patrol car with his gun drawn. As the sergeant tells the activist to drop the weapon, Tolbert shouts back that he has the “right to bear arms.”

“You can’t walk down the street with a gun in your hand… I’m not going to allow you to do it,” Henderson said.

Tolbert was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun in his hand, “face down in a port arms position and had an additional firearm in a holster,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit says two other officers had approached Tolbert about the shotgun before Henderson arrived on the scene. The officers questioned and asked him to place the shotgun on the ground, and he complied, according to the court documents. 

“During this interaction, Defendant Officer Santa No. 1358 explained that Antoine had the right to carry and that she was merely expressing concerns,” the lawsuit says.

The activist told Santa about recent shootings in the neighborhood and his safety patrols. The officer told Tolbert he was free to leave. Santa told her colleagues that the arrest was a lawsuit waiting to happen, body-worn camera footage shows.

“I mean, we have this in the 4th [District] all the time and my boss would eat us alive if we tried to detain that guy,” Santa said. “Personally, I don’t work out here. I don’t know how the bosses run out here. That’s a tough call.”

 Body camera video shows Henderson pulling up to other patrol cars and speaking to the other officers en route to the location and on the police radio. The sergeant tells the officers that it’s time to “intervene.”

“I have the right to carry, sir,” Tolbert says.

“You do, but not in your arm like that,” Henderson said. “Nope. Open carry. The gun in the holster is fine. The gun in your hand is not.”

“Am I being detained, Sir?” Tolbert asks.

“Yes, you are,” the officer replies.

“On what grounds?” Tolbert says, demanding that the officer advises him of the penal code.

Under Ohio’s open-carry law, a firearm cannot be concealed even partially, where it isn’t clear that it is a firearm. However, a person cannot carry the weapon in a menacing or threatening way or point it at anyone. The law also prohibits the open carrying of guns on private poverty where there are signs banning them or in certain public places like courthouses, school safety zones and police stations. 

Ohio has also approved concealed carry since Tolbert’s arrest. However, it does not apply to long guns like shotguns.

After two minutes of back and forth with Tolbert refusing to drop the weapon, five officers surround Tolbert and handcuff him.

“It’s my duty. It’s my duty. It’s my duty. It’s my community,” says Tolbert after the officers placed him in handcuffs. “I ain’t seen the police.”

After the officers put Tolbert in the car, Henderson tells the officers it is a “CCW arrest.” Moments later, Henderson said it was improper handling of a firearm charge. Court documents show Tolbert was ultimately transported to jail under carrying a concealed weapon charges but was later released.

The police documents reportedly indicate Tolbert was arrested for inducing panic and carrying a concealed weapon but was released without formal charges. Reports show that an improperly handling of a firearm charge only applies to carrying a gun in a motor vehicle.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers “engaged in willful, wanton, reckless, and/or negligent conduct” that caused Tolbert “emotional distress, humiliation, loss of liberty, contraction of COVID-19, loss of employment, and temporary loss of residence.”

According to reports, Tolbert lost his new job at the community development organization and was forced to move out of his house temporarily because his wife’s ex-husband used the video of the encounter to seek full custody of their young child.

The officers are accused of violating Tolbert’s 14th Amendment rights to be free from unlawful search and seizure and wrongfully arresting the man. The amount of damages he is seeking will be determined at trial.

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